Three mates and their bikes chase the connection to land that Robinson Crusoe discovers whilst marooned. With Maria Island as their muse and copies of Crusoe stashed in saddle bags the trio roll onto the gravel.
The concept of being cast away, marooned on an island paradise, seems at times a romantic notion of escape that may be unattainable. But if it’s possible, is it worth chasing?
Many stories are told both fictional and true that build on an island paradise found without civilisation, where you are lost and free to roam.
Cut off from society you may find an equilibrium with your environment, closer to land, far from the distractions of everyday life.
I Go to Sea
‘Being the third son of the family and not bred to any trade, my head began to be filled very early with rambling thoughts.’
Robinson Crusoe is one of these fictionalised stories of paradise found on an island. The story is told by ‘Crusoe’ as the narrator of his experience, and the tale was so believable when published that initially the general public accepted it as a travelogue of true events. It was actually written by Daniel Defoe.
The inspiration for Crusoe does have a factual base. It follows the story of a marooned sailor Alexander Selkirk, who by choice asked to be left on an island originally known as Más a Tierra (Closer to Land) armed only with a musket, a hatchet, a knife, a cooking pot, a Bible, bedding, and some clothes.
Marooned, in the context of this story, refers to our intentional abandonment of everyday life for the sweet freedom of a remote island on the east coast of Tasmania; this time armed with a bike, a swag, a knife, a cooking pot, and a copy of Robinson Crusoe.
In the same way that he found his escape so too will we be castaways, this time on a three-day, two-night bikepacking exploration of Tasmania’s finest piece of riding paradise, Maria Island.
I Travel Quite Across the Island
‘From this moment I began to conclude in my mind that it was possible for me to be more happy in this forsaken, solitary condition than it was possible I should ever have been in any other particular state in the world; and with this thought I was going to give thanks to God for bringing me to this place.’
Maria Island (Tarra Marra Monah) once a penal colony, is now a managed protected national park located on the East Coast of Tasmania. Approximately 115 square kilometres in size, its wild sea cliffs and sweeping white-sand beaches are set against the mountainous backdrop of Mt Maria and the dolerite columns Bishop and Clerk. A blank canvas waiting for a path to be etched on.
Access to the island is via a 30 minute ferry ride that runs daily from the East Coast township of Triabunna, a roughly 1 hour and 15-minute drive from Hobart.
This island is a bike riding paradise. Bikes are encouraged as a way of exploring the island, in fact, bikes and feet are the only means of transport available to the public on Maria Island.
Departing Tasmania on the ferry, we find ourselves amongst a school of bikes of all shapes and sizes making their way over to the island with their owners. Most of these bikes will be used as a simple means of transport from the island’s main campground Darlington. Just a select few will be a ticket to escape to far corners of the island.
I Find Wealth All Around Me
‘I saw my fate to my great affliction, viz., that I was in an island environed every way with the sea, no land to be seen, except some rocks which lay a great way off, and two small islands less than this, which lay about three leagues to the west.’
The coastal road that leads through Darlington from the ferry is a smooth gravel road that ambles its way past impossibly white sand beaches, crystal blue waters, and painted sandstone cliffs.
In fact, all these three things occur in just the one location the Painted Cliffs. It’s a must-stop, must-visit, and for me, a must-swim location on the island. This portion of the island is quite busy, with fellow riders enjoying the biking paradise.
Past this point, as you make your way down the coastal road of the island, numbers quickly dwindle; you find yourself more and more alone as you enjoy the natural wonders on offer.
Well, not quite alone, as the island is known for its healthy population of native wildlife. Wombats, echidnas, and Cape Barron geese can be found in great numbers and given its geographic isolation from mainland Tasmania, endangered species such as Tasmanian devils and Forrester kangaroos have also been introduced to the island to maintain populations off the mainland.
The wombats wander through your camp making sure that the paddock has been mown millimetre perfect, making your bed for the night the envy of most bowling greens. The kangaroos, echidnas, and Cape Barron geese wander nearby, albeit a bit more warily; devils could be heard calling through the night, a sound that has their name well earned.
We Cross Mountains
‘This grieved me heartily; and now I saw, though too late, the folly of beginning a work before we count the cost, and before we judge rightly of our own strength to go through with it.’
A trip to Maria Island has to include mountains. Mt Maria and Bishops and Clerk just add to the wild nature of the island and provide an opportunity to pull you away from the cruising coastal trails inland to hills. As you move inland the smooth gravel roads give way to fire trails and single track. The condition and gradient is a stark contrast to the gentle undulation of the coast.
The southern half of the island gets wilder, our second campsite Frenchs Farm represented the last guaranteed fresh water before heading to this end of the island.
Maria Island narrows into a tight isthmus with a loose sandy track that divides the quiet waters of Shoal Bay and the open ocean of Riedle Bay. It’s at this point we are questioning our choice of bike tires for the trip. If I was to give any advice ‘fat’ should be the operative word as you slip, dip and push your way from the northern island to the southern.
The tough navigation of the isthmus is best broken up with a bit of saltwater therapy and a rest in the sun. The choice of floating in the calm shallow waters of Shoal Bay or a bit of bodysurfing in the rough stuff at Riedle await. Both options are only 300 metres apart at the narrowest point.
The southern island is best described as ‘now it’s getting interesting’. The sandy slip and dip of the isthmus gives way to gritty, rowdy fire trail. The gentle undulation makes way for sustained climbing and ripping descents. This end of the island is remote, wild and beautiful.
A fork in the road leaves you with choices, for us it was always going to be Haunted Bay. The end is worth the effort, the road finds rugged coastline with views off in the distance of Cape Pillar and Tasman Island.
I Find the Print of a Man’s Naked Foot
‘And now I saw how easy it was for the providence of God to make even the most miserable condition of mankind worse.’
Maria is an island rich in natural wonders and history. It hasn’t always been described as a paradise though. A penal colony from 1825 to 1832, there are many remnants and reminders of this period of Maria’s history.
Established prior to Port Arthur, the solitary confinement found above Encampment Cove provides an insight into the grim conditions experienced by previous castaways to this island. Oppressively small rooms awaited the poor souls who were transported here. Conditions that would be described as harsh at best, with a view.
The island’s penal history made way for various ventures and at one stage included a cement factory. In 1972 Maria Island was declared a national park and began to become what you see today.
Reading through Maria’s checkered history, you get the impression that no one has ever quite tamed this island, however, the remnants of its history and buildings warrant a stop and explore as you travel through.
I Revisit My Island
‘Anyone would think that in this state of complicated good fortune I was past running any more hazards – and so, indeed, I had been, if other circumstances had concurred; but I was inured to a wandering life.
What does it mean cast away to an island? For some, it might be escaping a no longer seaworthy ship, for others just a brief escape from the distractions of everyday life. There are many reasons to escape.
Being marooned, albeit briefly, on an island paradise, isn’t an unattainable idea found only in fiction and times long ago. You can become a castaway today if you look hard enough; bring your adventurous spirit and embrace a wandering life.
Article headings and the quotes below are taken from Robinson Crusoe, the novel by Daniel Defoe.